With the Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, the Southwest Oregon Regional Airport, miles of uncrowded beaches and trails, the South Coast is attracting an increasing number of visitors. One sign that the area is maturing as a regional destination is the decision by local stakeholders to create a destination management organization (DMO) to represent the region as a whole. Travel Southern Oregon Coast (TSOC) complements the efforts of area chambers of commerce, existing tourism boards and other partners in coastal communities from Reedsport to Brookings.
“Research shows that when tourists come to a region rather than one specific destination they stay longer and spend more money,” says Jon-Paul Bowles, the interim director of TSOC. Tourists spend about $170 a day on the southern Oregon coast. Yet the average daily visitor spending in Oregon is $210 per person per day, according to data collected by Travel Oregon. “TSOC is setting out to close that gap,” Bowles says.
Julie Miller, former director of the Bandon Chamber of Commerce, was recently hired as the regional tourism network manager. Julie will be working with TSOC and other organizations throughout the South Coast to help convene people and maintain the region’s momentum in the tourism industry.
TSOC, which is largely funded by the Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, is responsible for making strategic investments in development projects, promotions and relationships that lead to the South Oregon Coast becoming a “bucket list destination” — especially for outdoor recreation enthusiasts. Ultimately, the goal is to increase visitor spending — on lodging, restaurants, gear rentals, tour guides and other necessities.
A rising tide lifts all boats
TSOC emerged from two Rural Tourism Studios facilitated by Travel Oregon in the South Coast region from 2013 to 2017 — one for the Wild Rivers Coast and one for the Southern Oregon Coast. The community-based workshop series helps communities create a shared vision and a big-picture strategy for tourism and delivers practical trainings to help communities create new tourism offerings in culinary and agritourism, outdoor recreation, bicycling tourism, cultural heritage tourism and more.
“Out of those studios, it became clear that everyone’s resources would go further if we combined efforts. That began with agreeing to combine some resources and represent the South Coast region as one destination rather than two separate regions or multiple cities and town,” Bowles says. Many of the people who joined action teams following the Rural Tourism Studios sit on the TSOC board of directors or sub-committees.
“TSOC is emerging at an opportune time,” says Jennifer Groth, public information officer for the Southwest Oregon Regional Airport, TSOC board president and Coos Bay city council woman. “There is a lot more awareness about the economic opportunities in the tourism industry along the South Coast than in the past.” She points to a commitment by Travel Oregon to invest resources in the South Coast; the decision by the Oregon Coast Visitors Association (OCVA) to hire Gold Beach resident Dave Lacey as destination coordinator; and OSU Extension hiring Miles Phillips, extension coastal tourism specialist, to help nature-based tourism businesses access resources. “We have a lot of expertise in our region,” says Jennifer Groth, public information officer for the Southwest Oregon Regional Airport and TSOC board president.
Destination development emerges as a top priority
A 2014 visitor survey conducted by Dennett Consulting Group found that a vast number of visitors are seeking authentic outdoor adventures and rich, culinary experiences. “People want access to the water. They want to eat locally grown food and locally caught seafood. And they want to be able to access hiking and biking trails,” Bowles says. This data is helping drive some big investments in the tourism industry along the South Coast. TSOC is poised to support new businesses that emerge to improve the visitor experience. For example, the 10 miles of the new Whiskey Run Mountain Biking Trail system opened in June, 2018. “We plan on building another 20 miles of world class single track, which is what it takes to convince a mountain biker to plan a vacation here. That means more nights booked in local hotels, more meals purchased. We’re even seeing tour operating companies starting to offer trips to Whiskey Run.”
“Bandon Dunes [Golf Resort] is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for golfers from all over the world,” Groth says. “The South Coast has the potential to develop any number of world-class experiences if we set our minds to it.”
Photo of the Whiskey Run Mountain Biking Trail courtesy of OregonRides.com.